Kevin Evans continued his reign as the king of the MTN Crater Cruise marathon mountain bike race in Parys, Free State on Saturday, when he became the first three-time winner of South Africa's richest one-day mountain bike race.
Jacques Rossouw (ITEC Connect-Kathea) finished second and Evans's Nedbank 360Life teammate, David George, was third, which was enough for him to secure the prestigious 2011 National Series overall title. Brandon Stewart (ITEC Connect-Kathea) and former winner, Melt Swanepoel (Specialized), rounded out the top five places respectively.
"It was hard as usual. This race is always hard. The last 30-odd kilometres is gradual uphill and I know that bit so well," said a relieved Evans, who has finished in the first two places at the Crater Cruise six times.
An early break comprising Mannie Heymans (Garmin adidas), Pieter Seyffert (Matlosana) and Jock Green (Ghost Do-It-Now) shaped the early part of the 107km race, but it came back together before the riders reached the technical section after 50km where the relentless pace set by the stronger riders blew the field apart and a group of 12 remained at the front.
At 60km, Stewart put in an attack to which nobody responded. The KwaZulu-Natalian held a lead on his own for close to 10km before the pack reeled him in with just over 35km to go. Stewart's ITEC Connect-Kathea teammate, Rossouw, immediately counter-attacked and only Evans responded.
"I saw we were getting a reasonable gap, and I told Jacques we need to go for it as this could be the winning move if we got a decent lead quickly. Jacques was strong and I felt good. What was actually a soft break turned out to be the winning break," said Evans.
With 12km remaining, Evans attacked Rossouw and got a gap, but then crashed, which allowed Rossouw to close him down again.
"As he caught me, Jacques stopped to inflate a slow puncture and that allowed me to get my gap back again, and I really just maintained focus until the finish. It's good to be the first to win three in a row here. And it was a double bonus that Dave won the Series," said Evans, winner of the National Series for the past six years.
"I finished strong today because with Kevin up the road, it was up to the others to chase which put less pressure on me. Winning this series is my first real mountain bike racing milestone," said George, a former road cycling professional.
"My only real threat for the series title was Adrien (Niyonshuti), but I could see he was scratching a bit early on. Then when Kevin and Jacques were up the road, I could relax a bit. I have to mention how important it is to have supportive sponsors and the best equipment. Those are two key elements that have made this Series win possible."
For Nedbank 360Life, it was a fitting end to the 2011 edition of Africa's largest bicycle racing series. George won the opening round of the eight-event series, the MTN Attakwas near Oudtshoorn, in January, giving the new, ambitious team a confidence-boosting early victory.
Evans was a spectator that day, still recovering from a near-death experience following infection caused by a leaking appendix. He then suffered a broken collarbone in a crash early on at the 2011 Cape Epic two months later, sinking any hope of becoming the first South African team to win the event.
"It's been a rollercoaster year for us, but there were more ups than downs. It's great to finish the Series on an up. But our season isn't over yet. Still some tough races to come and we're aiming for more ups!" said George.
The perfect birthday win for Kleinhans in women's race
In the women's 107km race, Ariane Kleinhans finished first in a time of 3:58:36. She was just five seconds in front of runner-up Yolande Speedy, whom she outsprinted, while Yolandi Du Toit took third at 7:11. Ischen Stopforth (Bizhub) was fourth.
Race day was actually Kleinhaus's birthday, and she decided to spend it the hard way - by winning a bike race. Her victory did not come easily. Moments after she crossed the line, she gave everybody a scare by collapsing, totally exhausted.
Kleinhans just lay still on the ground for some minutes while Erik, her husband, cradled her head in his lap, telling her how proud he was of her performance.
Speedy secured the overall victory of the MTN series for women with her second place.
Kleinhans and Speedy were involved in a titanic battle. Kleinhans managed to ride away from Speedy about halfway through the race, but Speedy refused to give up. She caught up with Kleinhans and passed her on the last rocky climb.
According to Kleinhans, it was of the utmost importance for her to regain the lead before they reached the final technical section.
"It would have been 'race over' for me if I had not done that. So I had to dig deep to pass Yolandé again."
Afterwards Speedy was full of praise for the way Kleinhans raced. "Ariane deserved to win today. I am happy to finish second."
Du Toit, who won the race the preceding two years, reiterated that the MTN Ride Crater Cruise was, in her opinion, one of the toughest races on the local calendar.
"It is a race that drains your energy right from the beginning until the end. Therefore I am happy just to be on the rostrum."
Stopforth, who raced the MTN Crater Cruise for the first time, described her racing experience as "shaken but not stirred".
Four years ago Du Toit was knocked off her mountain bike by a frightened blesbok. This time it was Stopforth's turn to befriend some antelopes.
"Cherise Taylor and I were racing together. At Suikerbossie we were a little behind the leaders. As luck would have it, a herd of exited hartebeest stampeded right in front of us. We had to wait for them to pass before we could resume our racing.
"This meant that we had to play catch up for the rest of the race."
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|5||Ben Melt Swanepoel||0:03:32|
|13||Jacques Janse Van Rensburg||0:07:42|
|18||Ruan Du Toit||0:12:35|
|25||Guylin Van Den Berg||0:23:59|
|27||Paul Alexander Vanzweel||0:26:32|
|36||Jaco Du Toit||0:38:14|
|40||Christiaan De Vries||0:56:31|
|44||Etienne Jansen Van Vuuren||1:15:05|
|45||Cedric Jansen Van Vuuren||1:22:16|
|46||Rynard Van Hoven||1:24:42|
|51||Nicolaas Tjaart Van Der Merwe||1:34:34|
|56||Rico Van Der Merwe||2:14:53|
|DNF||Jan Frederick Van Der Merwe|
|#||Rider Name (Country) Team||Result|
|3||Yolandi Du Toit||0:07:11|
|7||Karien Van Jaarsveld||0:21:28|
|8||Leana De Jager||0:22:27|
|9||Marissa Van Der Merwe||0:43:17|
|10||Ronel Van Wyk||0:47:53|
|11||Charmaine Werdmuller Von Elgg||1:44:06|
|DNF||Michelle Van Der Merwe|